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How Fatigue Impacts Your Emergency Responders’ Situational Awareness

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, CFO, EFO, Fire Chief (ret.)

Numerous research studies have demonstrated fatigue and sleep deprivation can impact your situational awareness in disturbing ways. Some responders think that by taking a “safety nap” their mental clarity will be sustained. In a small way, it may help, as any rest is better than no rest. However, you cannot rely, chronically, on small increments of sleep to provide the benefits that a full sleep cycle provides, which is about eight hours for the average person.

Fatigue Can Impact Situational Awareness
Research shows responders working long hours need opportunities to rest their brains to operate most effectively.
Naps can be powerfully restorative, but do not resolve issues with systemic fatigue and sleep deprivation. Rest is a critical component to brain function and when there is not an adequate resting period or disrupted sleep cycles the impact is real and measurable.
Some scientists have described the behavior of research participants suffering from sleep deprivation as displaying similar cognitive and motor skills as a person who is intoxicated. When you think about the critical nature of first responder situational awareness and its role in decision making, you quickly realize fatigue can have catastrophic consequences.
The work schedule of public safety providers is not conducive to adequate rest. Twenty-four hour shifts in organizations that are busy service providers can present some real challenges to situational awareness, decision making, critical thinking and problem solving abilities. I have talked, informally, with many EMS providers who have fully admitted to me the quality of their patient care, as well as the speed and accuracy of their decision making, diminishes after working long shifts. In some agencies, providers work 48 consecutive hours and they do so in busy agencies where the call volume prohibits adequate resting periods.
Many responders believe if they feel physically rested they are, concurrently, mentally rested. In reality, when the physical body is resting, the brain is not resting at all. In fact, the brain is surprisingly active while the body rests, suggesting the body rests so the brain may have access to the extra glucose (energy) to do its heavy lifting.
And what is the brain doing while you sleep? Findings in neuroscience suggest the brain is sorting through all the data and experiences from the previous waking period, storing and cataloging the events for future use. After the storing and cataloging is complete, the brain clears the proverbial slate for the next waking period where new experiences can be gathered and the process starts all over again.
While you are sleeping, your brain can also continue to work on problems that may have perplexed you during your previous waking period. This has led to the sage advice that when you have to make an important decision, you should first sleep on it. There is scientific evidence to support this notion. Research participants given complex problems before they go to sleep often produce more accurate solutions after a good night’s sleep. Conversely, participants who have their sleep patterns interrupted, produce lower test scores. Thus, fatigue and sleep deprivation cannot only impact short-term performance and memory, it can also impact long-term memory and recall.
Responders who work long hours should be provided with opportunities to rest their brains. It’s not a matter of being lazy as some elected or appointed administrators may critically suggest. It’s a matter of personal safety and improving brain function, critical thinking, problem solving, situational awareness and decision making.

Dr. GasawayAbout the Author

Dr. Gasaway is widely considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and the human factors that complicate first responder decision making. In addition to his 30-plus year career in the fire service, including 22 years as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website, Situational Awareness Matters ( welcomes 50,000 visitors a month from 156 countries. He can be reached via e-mail at

Pumpkins and the Uncompromising Truth for Firefighters

Uncompromising Truth for Firefighters

Blog by Peter Dove
Shared Values Associates

Have you ever been in a situation where you see behavior within the organization that is not right and something really ought to be said … but by whom? While homicide is extremely rare in the workplace, people have been killed for telling the uncompromising truth since the time of Christ and before.

What happened to the last guy who told the boss which cow ate what cabbage? In the workplace, it is usually perceived as unsafe to speak out, but what is the alternative?

There comes an opportunity for all of us – a moment of truth – to take a stand and say it, and most of the time it is the little things: She didn’t bring back the stapler – again. He needs a breath freshener. She shouldn’t have taken that tone in front of us all. He needs to think more about us and less about himself.

Sometimes it is the big things. Rather than tell the uncompromising truth, David Duncan of Arthur Anderson shredded documents for Enron. John Manville, Inc. knew about the lung-crunching of Asbestos in the 1930s, yet said nothing. David Myers knew about the fraud of reclassifying expenses at WorldCom in 2002. More recently, GM knew about the faulty ignition switches for at least 10 years, but senior managers said nothing and people died as a result. Mary Barra, now CEO, has stepped up to the plate and is doing what she can to make things right.

The funny thing about the people who perpetrated the lies is that generally speaking, they were honest people. David Duncan graduated high school with honors, was a church-going family man. David Myers also graduated with honors, was a family man with a conscience and was deeply disturbed about his misdeeds to the point of attempted suicide. Why do good people do cowardly, dishonest things that harm others?

The Pumpkin Story
There is an interesting story told by a dear, late friend and author, Lou Tice. He was at the Washington State Fair, an institution here in Western Washington held every September. It seems that in the Most Unusual Vegetable category, the blue ribbon was awarded for a pumpkin that looked not a little, but exactly like a jug. When the judges asked how the farmer managed to grow such a squash he answered, “That was easy. I just planted a pumpkin seed inside of a jug, let it grow, broke the jug when the pumpkin couldn’t get any bigger and brought it to the fair.”

The culture you work in is the jug, and you are the pumpkin. The jug is the context and people, both good and bad tend to conform to the organizational context, just like Duncan and Myers. Guess what the context was like among the senior team at Enron and WorldCom – arrogant and dishonest.  So, heretofore honest, upright people tend toward conforming to that jug. It happens all the time.

The good news is jugs are not good or bad, and you get to make the jug. How? The answer is through shared values and one of those values is telling the uncompromising truth. People deserve the truth, and when they haven’t received it, they feel betrayed and disempowered. An important teacher of mine, the late Stephen Covey said, “Unexpressed feelings are buried alive and come back later in ugly ways.”

As you read this article, picture a conversation with your workgroup about getting into agreement using these suggested guidelines. We’ve been using them successfully with companies for more than 20 years, maybe they will work for you as well.

Treat Others with the Uncompromising Truth
1. Am I discussing the issue with the other person within 24 hours?

2.  Am I asking the other person for permission to communicate?  “Is this a good time to talk?”

3.  Am I approaching the other person in a non-threatening way?

4.  Am I straight talking without intending to hurt the other person’s feelings? Is my language simple, understandable, non-apologizing and non-personal?

5.  Am I making a request of the other person and not a complaint? Is my request telling the other person how I would like it to be?

Proactively creating the work environment context means dedicating a conversation(s) among your workmates to gain agreement about behavior up front. There is much power in agreement. Create a covenant, a sort of contract, a meeting of the minds beforehand. Then, when a situation arises, which I personally guarantee it will, you and everyone else in your work environment are prepared.

You have a way to go, a principle centered method of how we are going to be with each other. When the moment of truth arises, tell the other person what you are doing. This reminder helps both of you get through a difficult conversation.

Please keep in mind that this covenant you are creating with your people is a process and a long conversation. It requires courage, character, patience and resolve. It’s risky and not something all of you will agree to as evinced by behavior. Nor will you accomplish this mutual understanding by next Tuesday, or even next month, but you may by next year.

You will find this or any other guideline difficult to establish because the uncompromising truth for firefighters will be tested perhaps daily, but testing is the only way it gets stronger. One thing is sure – you can’t build the jug you want without the truth. Though difficult to imbue, once this value has been institutionalized, it is very hard to kill off and know this … the truth will set you free.

  • Lasting Change by Rob Lebow, pp 64-69

About the Author
Peter Dove, is president of Shared Values Associates, a firm dedicated to corporate culture design. Learn more about Peter Dove at


Webbing Technique: Staying in Contact with the Hose Line While Searching

Blog by Jason Hoevelmann 
Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal with Sullivan Fire Protection District
Firefighters carry webbing for many reasons, including:
  • To search a large area
  • As a harness for themselves and other firefighters during rescue
  • To carry tools and saws

All of these situations, and others not listed, are appropriate and important. This article will focus on staying in contact with the hose line while using a length of webbing to search.

The typical length of webbing is between 20 and 30 feet. In most cases, these are tied into a loop using a water knot. This makes for more versatile webbing and eliminates the difficulty of tying the knot while in low visibility conditions with gloves on. However, everyone needs to be able to tie simple knots and hitches in poor conditions with gloves on.
In most areas of the country, the first-attack line simultaneously searches for fire and victims. Resources usually are not available to do separate functions and doing both is the most efficient use of manpower. One problem is when in large buildings with large rooms, searching with the line can be cumbersome. Using the webbing is a fast and safe way to search off of line without losing your contact with the line.
The simplest way to do this is to tie a girth hitch around the hose line with the already looped webbing about 10 feet behind the nozzle firefighter. This is an easy hitch to tie and untie and can be loosened to move up and down the line.
Before you fan out across the room, wrap the webbing about four times around your contact arm and move toward the nozzle firefighter and then fan out off of the line holding onto the webbing until your back on the line. Unwrap the rest of the webbing and fan out again performing your search. You can continue this method as you advance the line.
In addition to the fan method, you can search cubicles and other confusing floor plans using this method. The webbing gives you a direct line back to the hose line and keeps you from getting out of voice contact with your partner.
Remember, these methods must be trained on and practiced. Follow your department’s guidelines and policy. Stay safe.
About the Author
Jason Hoevelmann is a Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal with the Sullivan Fire Protection District, a combination department. Hoevelmann is also a career firefighter/paramedic with the Florissant Valley Fire Protection District in North St. Louis County. His experience spans more than 20 years and he has been an instructor for more than 15 years.
* This blog was originally published by TargetSolutions in July of 2011

10 Ways to Develop Situational Readiness and 10 Mistakes That Will Set Your Organization Back

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, CFO, EFO, Fire Chief  (ret.)
The precursor to situational awareness is situational readiness. I define situational readiness as having the ability to anticipate what things need to be in place to be well-prepared for an emergency response; and then, taking the steps necessary to ensure those things are done in advance of the actual response.
What precisely is needed to ensure situational readiness? Here are 10 things that make a good start to the list:
Situational Readiness List
1. Hiring of the right people for the right reasons.
2. Firing the wrong people for the right reasons.
3. Developing a comprehensive program to train supervisors how to be leaders of people.
4. Building a safety culture where egos are kept in check and self-esteem is strengthened by supportive leadership.
5. Ensuring members have all the tools and equipment necessary to ensure success.
6. Ensuring members are thoroughly trained on how to use their tools and equipment.
7. Training members for success using realistic and repetitive evolutions, scenarios and simulations.
8. Ensuring the focus is first, and foremost, on the prevention of emergencies.
9. Evaluating opportunities for self-improvement following each emergency response.
10. Making small, incremental improvements over time. Avoid changing things at a pace that is faster than the organization can sustain.
Situational Non-Readiness List
Now, let’s look at the antithesis list. These are the hallmarks of organizations that are not well-prepared.
1. Hiring the wrong people for the wrong reasons.
2. Keeping poor performers whose attitude and disposition drag everyone down.
3. Doing nothing to train existing or newly promoted supervisors on how to lead people.
4. Allowing the organization to be run by leaders with big egos and low self-esteem.
5. Denying the members the tools and equipment to be successful.
6. Withholding the training on how to effectively use their tools and equipment.
7. Training in unrealistic ways. Taking shortcuts and just going through the motions or doing no training at all.
8. Focusing entirely on suppression/response and ignoring prevention.
9. Ignoring the lessons from mistakes made at emergencies.
10. Making no improvements or trying to make major improvements quickly so the organization is set-up to frustration and failure.
Compare the lists and decide for yourself. Does your organization have situational readiness?
About the Author
Dr. Gasaway is widely considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and the human factors that complicate first responder decision making. In addition to his 30-plus year career in the fire service, including 22 years as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website, Situational Awareness Matters ( welcomes 50,000 visitors a month from 156 countries. He can be reached via e-mail at

How to Effectively Cut Padlocks During Forcible-Entry Operations

Blog by Firetown Training Specialist
Padlocks are an easy, inexpensive way for property owners to secure access into specific areas. This common type of lock usually secures mounted hasps by connecting and locking two ends of a chain, or by locking out pre-fabricated hardware on an appliance/machine. Though not commonly seen on main entrance/exit doors of businesses or private dwellings, the padlock can be found on storage unit doors, sheds, fence gates, vehicle access bollard posts, and post-indicator valves (PIVs), to name a few locations.
Bolt cutters are the common tool of choice for to cut padlocks during forcible-entry. Unfortunately, most padlocks are made of case-hardened steel, which is very strong in comparison to the materials that bolt cutters were intended to cut.
You will find that most of the time, a set of bolt cutters will make the cut, using a big effort, but the damage to the tool after continual use will render it ineffective over time. Take a look at the bolt cutters on your apparatus and notice the large elongated nicks taken out of the cutting edges. Not only can you damage your bolt cutters by cutting padlocks, but you can hinder processes on the fireground.
You probably haven’t been assigned the “bolt cutters” on the fireground when your company rolls up. There is another tool (or set of tools) on the fireground that is frequently found in the hands of multiple firefighters – and that’s a set of “irons.”
Whether you choose a flathead axe or a sledge maul, you can marry it with a Halligan bar – and padlocks will fear you. When a padlock fails or fractures, it usually does so at the latch cut on the shackle, or at the base of the shackle where it swivels down inside. It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of force to fail and can even be accomplished by a single firefighter with a tool in each hand.
Refer to the photos below during firefighter training for representation on cutting and forcing padlocks. 
Irons Method No. 1
Irons Method No. 1: Place the pike end of the Halligan through the shackle of the lock with the striking portion of the Halligan exposed either from the top or the side. One or two good strikes with your axe or maul on the striking surface, and the lock should fail.
Irons Method No. 2
Irons Method No. 2: Place the fork end of the Halligan over the shackle of the lock so it is straddled. One or two good strikes with your axe or maul at the base of the fork end, and the lock should fail.
Circular/Rotary Saw Method
Circular/Rotary Saw Method: Using a set of vice grips and a rotary saw with an abrasive blade, you can capture the padlock at its base to ensure that it does not flap around wildly when the saw contacts the shackle. This can safely be done by securing a leash or piece of webbing to the vice grips and pulling it taunt. Have another firefighter assist with this. However, when operating independently, secure the tension by stepping on the leash/webbing with one foot. Make contact on the shackle of the lock at full throttle and complete your cut.
Bolt Cutter Method
Bolt Cutter Method: Bolt cutters are great for cutting fencing, light to medium gauge chain, and other soft metals. When you have the option to cut the chain or padlock used in such a combination, cut the link of chain closest to the padlock using the bolt cutters. This enables the property owner to later use his key to unlock the undamaged padlock and pull the slack from the chain to secure the lock to the next available link.
Remember to always try and have an alternative method to what you think will probably work when conducting forcible-entry operations.



About the Author
This blog was submitted by Ed Hadfield of Firetown Training Specialist. Hadfield has more than 27 years of fire service experience, rising through the ranks from Firefighter to Division Chief.


Times May Have Changed, But Somebody Still Needs to Be the Barn Boss

Blog by Brian Ward
Training Director in Madison, Ga.
This column is a throwback to the history of the fire department – back before we had custom cabs and 100-foot aerials, back when our equipment consisted of a wagon and a fine breed of horses.
Just how important was the “barn boss” to ensuring the equipment, or the horses, were ready to respond at any time? What exactly was the barn boss responsible for? Most importantly, who in your department is filling that role now?
The barn boss doesn’t wear trumpets, but their necessity is beyond any individual in the department. Obviously, there has to be chiefs and officers for day-to-day operations and incident command. However, there is not much to command or operate if the chiefs and officers do not make it to the scene. In addition, if the troops or firefighters are not prepared to respond as quickly as the horses, there’s not much to operate or command.
In order for things to run smoothly the most influential firefighter should step up and be prepared to take the responsibility of making sure personnel are trained appropriately and the equipment is capable of handling all necessary tasks.
We all have our days when we don’t feel like a million bucks, but we never know what call is coming next and it’s essential we are confident in our equipment’s capabilities. Today may just be that day. Think if that was your family, which fire apparatus and which firefighter would you want responding!
The barn boss also needs to make sure all firefighters are fully capable of handling their duties with efficiency and competence. In order for this to happen, firefighters need to be exercised everyday just like the equipment on the apparatus.
Firefighters need to be trained. They need to practice the basics and be introduced to new techniques. Time after time firefighters start off full-tilt with new information but hit a road block and stop learning. Equipment, procedures, best practices, technological developments, standards, research developments – all of these are introduced regularly. A small piece of information may save your life or the life of a crew member. Or that new knowledge might help you work more efficiently.
These are critical tasks for a barn boss. Any chance you have to pass on information and knowledge – cherish that opportunity. You may not receive thanks or a pat on the back, but you will have done something incredibly important to our mission. Keep in mind, you have to lead by example and do the job first. This shows dedication, heart, and commitment to the people around you.
Be the example. Set the bar. Be the barn boss for your department.
As always, train hard, take care, and be safe.
About the Author
Brian Ward is the training director for Georgia Pacific in Madison, Ga. He previously was an engineer/officer with Gwinnett County Fire Department in Georgia. He is a past training officer, chairman of the Metro Atlanta Training Officers and currently serves on the Honeywell Advisory Council. He is a State of Georgia Advocate for “Everyone Goes Home” and the Membership Task Force Co-Chair and Live Fire Instructor for ISFSI. Brian was recently awarded the National Seal of Excellence from the NFFF/EGH.

Size-Up Communication: A Critical Aspect to Situational Awareness

Blog by Ed Hadfield
In the first part of this series, we discussed the important aspects of the Incident Commander and his/her ability to capture the appropriate level of situational awareness on the fireground. Based upon the presentation of facts within the interior fireground, through intel from group leaders, as well as the intel in which the “Inside Man” presents to the Incident Commander. This article discusses the necessity for the continuous size-up and the situation status report, which will give the individual in charge the ability to make strategic adjustments.
First, the process must be defined and known to all personnel so they understand operational goals of the incident. Often, first arriving command personnel fail to identify the operational objective for all personnel. It cannot be assumed that all personnel arriving have a complete and full understanding of the Incident Commander’s intent. An example would be the Initial Size-Up or “952/Report on Conditions.” An appropriate Size-Up or 952 would layout similar to this:
“Battalion 1 and all incoming units, Engine 1 is on scene with four at 1313 Mockingbird Lane of a two-story single family dwelling with heavy pressurized smoke coming from the upper floors and visible fire on the first floor in the Bravo / Charlie corner. Engine 1 has established a water supply and will Fire Attack in an offensive mode. All incoming units continue primary staging. Engine 1 is Establishing Mockingbird Command with the Command Post in front of the structure.”
If we break this down, we can see how the initial Size-Up/952 lays the foundation for a successful command mode and safe, effective fireground operations based upon the established situational awareness of the first arriving Command Officer. The language in the primary announcement, “Battalion 1 and all incoming units,” is the “heads-Up’ indicator that the first arriving company is about to announce their size-up. This is important for all units to understand and operate under a radio discipline procedure to allow the first arriving Officer to have a clear radio frequency to provide his size-up/952. There is nothing more frustrating for a company officer, than trying to give his report and being drowned out by other units providing what they feel is important information.
The next aspect is to announce the unit identifier and crew strength. This begins to develop the initial accountability profile for the incoming Battalion Chief or other command officers. The “With four” announcement indicates the unit has arrived on scene with all four members. This is critical for second due arriving units to understand as well, given a reduction to “With (3) three” may indicate the second due units maybe assigned the single firefighter on Engine 1 as part of Fire Attack. The next arriving Engine may be assigned a split Company Operations with “Fire Attack and Search” with the firefighter from Engine 1. This is important to anticipate if you are the second arriving Engine Company Officer.
The address indicator is important as well. Although we are generally assigned from dispatch to the correct address on most SFR fires, on multi-family habitations and other larger complex fires, it is important to provide for a corrected address to all incoming units. Particularly for the truck company that may be responding from an opposite direction, to provide for an appropriate spot in front of the structure or to get a good look at three sides of the structure when approaching.
Observations should include the following:
  • Height of Structure: 1 / 2 / 3 Story
  • Type of Structure: Single Family / Multi-Family / Commercial / Industrial / High-Rise
  • Grouping: Center Hallway / Garden style / Strip Mall / Light Manufacturing
  • Conditions: Smoke Showing from the…. Fire Showing from…. Imminent Rescue at the….
  • Identified Hazards: Wires Down / High-Density Security Devices / Possible Collapse Situations
All of the above mentioned factors are designed to “Paint the Picture” for incoming units in order to prepare them for the mode of operations. This short, yet concise, report will speak volumes to those responding to the fireground in the area of positional tool assignments, operational consideration upon arrival, spotting/positioning and set up of apparatus, and overall fireground safety communications to personnel.
Communication of your actions is a required field to accomplish. Identifying the aspect of water supply and your initial actions, establishes the foundation of all other operations on the fireground specific to those other units awaiting an assignment. First, you must announce whether you have captured a water supply or not. If you have chosen to come in on the tank and require additional units to bring you water, you need to clearly identify that in the initial Size-Up/952. Otherwise, units will blow past water supply opportunities, come into your scene and potentially block out opportunities for subsequent responding units to quickly bring water.
Next is your decisive action plan…
NOTE: Hoping for the best is never an action plan.
Make a decision based upon known facts, and identified hazards and risks. Then put the plan into play and support all those associated with the action. In other words, either put the fire out or stand outside and watch it burn. On another note, if you are “On Scene, Investigating” you are NOT, and I repeat…NOT, “in command.” You are investigating and will provide the responding resources with updated information upon its availability. You cannot be “On scene, investigating, and establishing Mocking Bird Command” all at once. Remember, you must have an incident to be in command of it.
Establishing staging or directing units is critical for scene management; particularly in truck placement applications. You may find yourself directing companies to stage away and come in on foot to allow the truck the appropriate spot to utilize ground or aerial ladders. If your organization has a policy that establishes, or directs all incoming units to stage and receive an assignment prior to coming into the scene, you will want to pay particular attention to those specific details to avoid potential congestion at the scene with apparatuses that could eliminate truck placement or additional water supply. If you are striking additional alarms, you MUST establish a staging location and should consider a staging location manager if the alarms are over two.
Last but not least…Make a strong command, and establish a strong command presence. Far too many junior Company Officers are of the belief they need to “Pass Command” and go “Quick Attack.”
The bottom line here is they want to fight fire. They haven’t made the transition from line personnel to Officer and Commander. Now, I’ve heard all the arguments about the need for a quick attack, but the bottom line is this: A strong, established Incident Command System placed into an incident early on will provide the safest of all firegrounds.
The key is to understand that upon arrival, a Company Officer’s size-up and report on conditions are what provides him with the greatest ability to establish a bona-fide action plan, based upon visual observations and critical information at that specific time. Another company officer arriving just a few minutes later is going to see things differently and could assign resources differently based upon those conditions, which could be contradictive to those original actions of the first arriving officer. This is dangerous and counter-productive to the overall fireground.
Identifying the command post is important for all personnel, particularly in those cases of utilization, accountability and direction of resources. The command post can be a generalized location in which personnel, particularly the arriving B/C, would be capable of finding the initial I/C. Optimally, the CP is located in an area of observational awareness and ease of locality.
Size-up communication is a critical component to establishing necessary situational awareness on the fireground.
About the Author

Ed Hadfield has more than 26 years of fire service experience after rising through the ranks from firefighter to division chief. He is a frequent speaker on leadership, sharing his experiences within the fire service and also with corporate and civic leaders throughout the United States. For more on Hadfield, please check online at


The Criteria to Command

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO
Retired Fire Chief and Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters
There is a lot of emphasis these days on the need for strong incident management. In fact, when things go wrong one of the contributing factors often cited is the lack of command presence or issues with the quality of command. This is critical because the inccident commander is the “big picture” person – the person charged with developing and maintaining strong situational awareness for the entire incident (versus at a company level).
What does it take for a person to effectively command an incident? This is a question I get asked often, and the answer may be easier than you think. Based upon my experience in firefighter safety, coupled with my education in neuroscience, here are the criteria I would recommend. The person who is going to serve as the incident commander should:
Training: Receive training in how to command an incident. This goes beyond training on how to perform line tasks. The skill set required to command is very different than front-line skills. To be effective, commander training is essential.
Experience: Gain experience through commanding training incidents and having a mentor while at real incidents. Build the skill set at a pace that allows confidence to build.
Hands Off: The cognitive capacity (i.e., brain power) needed to command an incident with multiple companies working is huge. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it requires the cognitive horsepower of at least two people. It takes a lot of brain energy (and attention) to process and understand all the information coming into a commander’s eyes and ears. If the commander is hands-on (i.e., performing firefighting duties), there simply isn’t enough capacity to effectively do both jobs. The hands-on task of firefighting will override the cognitive task of commanding.
Big Picture: To be effective, the commander must be in a position to capture, process, comprehend and recall critical clues and cues on the macro (big picture) level. The closer the commander is to the action, the harder it is to see and hear the critical clues and cues.
Working Command
In some agencies, the first arriving officer establishes a working (or mobile) command and joins the firefighting crew. It is not for me to judge if, or when, this may be an appropriate action as there are so many factors that could influence this decision. However, it is indisputable that the officer who chooses to go hands-on and focus at the task-level (versus the big picture) cannot effectively develop, or maintain, big picture situational awareness. It’s equivalent to being on an airplane where the pilots set the automated flight management system and then come off the flight deck to serve drinks and snacks to the passengers. When no one is flying the plane, bad things can happen. When no one is commanding at the big-picture level, bad things can happen. Do whatever you think is best under the circumstances you face. Just understand the risks involved to both yourself and others when no one is serving as the big-picture, hands-off commander.
About the Author

Dr. Gasaway is widely considered to be one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and decision making processes used by first responders. In addition to more than 30 years in the fire service, including 22 years as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website, Situational Awareness Matters (, has enjoyed more than 1 million visits since its launch in October of 2011.

Perform a Needs Assessment to Determine the Right Topics for Your Fire Department Training

Blog by Jacob Johnson   
Lieutenant with Pearland Fire Department in Texas 
It’s natural for a fire service instructor to wonder if they are delivering the right firefighter training for their personnel. They may wonder if they are focusing on the right things. The answer is simple: As training administrators, we need to focus on what needs to be covered, as well as what our personnel are requesting us to cover.
This can be accomplished by performing a “needs assessment” for fire departments that center on training “needs” vs. training “wants.”
The most important question instructors face is what type of training should they deliver? They may wonder, “Should I focus on the basics or should I focus on advanced training?” Here is my stance: Are the basics of firefighting important? Yes, they are very important and much needed to survive in this profession.
The fire service, however, is prone to focusing too much on the basics and not nearly enough on the more challenging firefighter training or skills we need to improve. By completing a needs assessment for fire departments, you can use those results to determine whether you should be focused on the basics, or pushing into the more advanced training material.
My personal goal as an instructor is to give a firefighter training class that is challenging to my audience and makes a difference in their performance. If that goal is accomplished in every class, everyone is happy. Now, sometimes a simple building construction class is challenging to some members of the department. But at the same time, it is taken as a refresher for some of the other members and not really much of a learning experience. It’s important to remember training is all about learning and what new skills your students can extract and spread to the rest of their crew or department.
Unfortunately, many instructors don’t train enough themselves. They become so confident and comfortable teaching the “basics,” they become lazy and even begin to think they will look bad if they teach outside of their comfort zone. They may be afraid they won’t have all the answers to all the questions, or they may be challenged by someone more up-to-date, making them look bad.
We can’t let ourselves become “paper-stack instructors.” Meaning, we can’t become an instructor who piles up certifications (aka: a paper stack) and then forgets what we were taught, and even worse, didn’t bother to learn more.
In order to give a challenging fire department training class, which will truly benefit our students, we must take classes that challenge us and make us better – giving us the confidence and knowledge we need to be effective. After all, it’s on us, as instructors, to make firefighter training as impactful as possible.
About the Author
Jacob Johnson works for Pearland Fire Department (Texas) as a driver/operator. He has been in the fire service for more than 11 years. He has taught at extrication schools, recruit academies, and several suppression schools. His certifications include: FF Intermediate, Driver/Operator, Fire Officer 1, Fire Instructor III.

Situational Awareness on the Fireground for Incident Commanders and ‘the Inside Man’

Blog by Ed Hadfield
Situational awareness is a term we often hear about as a trait needed for our incident commanders. However, all personnel must develop their own situational awareness based on the task or objective they’re given. In this article, we will identify some very basic concepts of situational awareness based on the specific task or assignment as part of the overall fireground component.
Incident Commanders
As incident commanders, we are often tasked with assuming command of an active incident that has developed prior to our arrival. We’ve all experienced a second alarm from the bunk room based off reports from dispatch, only to discover it was a dumpster fire behind an industrial building, not a working fire in an industrial building.
We use this as an analogy to shed light on actions based on perception, not actions based on reality. Often we find individuals who lack situational awareness skills, base their decisions on a very limited view of the situation, rather than a global or comprehensive view. Therefore, the old “360 degree” philosophy becomes an important ingredient to our success model.
It is important for all incident commanders to capture a complete “360” of the structure. Having said that, one item of extreme importance is to capture the “360” yourself, or delegate to others and receive accurate feedback, within the first few minutes of establishing your action plan.
This continuous size-up of the structure and incident must become a component of the comprehensive action plan. However, adjustments may need to be made based upon the feedback you receive. Remember, the building has seven sides: the four exterior walls, the roof, the basement (if applicable) and the interior.
This view and information input will provide the basis to establish a comprehensive action plan. Often, due to the size of the structure, we rely upon our field personnel to provide the information to us as accurately and timely as possible. This is why structure identification and an understanding of building and rescue profiles are critical for all personnel on the fireground.
Given the dynamics of today’s fires and the events of extreme fire behavior that we operate within, the understanding of hostile event recognition and pressure as it relates to rapid fire progression is important information to be relayed to the incident commander. Particularly in high volume, big box and wide-rise type structures, where hostile events occur in the overhead at explosive levels that can create structural failure in the roof assembly.
Interior Situational Awareness Officer or “The Inside Man”
As a member assigned to the truck or engine, you will be tasked with a variety of objectives. Many of which require you to operate somewhat independently of the crew. Case in point, the “Inside Man,” or as I like to commonly refer to as the Interior Situational Awareness Officer. Yes, this is a mouthful, yet the concept is more important than the name.
In general, the “Inside Man” is responsible for bringing a blower to the door, pulling ceilings in the immediate overhead, coordinating the use of PPV with vertical ventilation, and working with the fire attack team to do search as extension or with his/her own company on secondary search or salvage operations. This job is really an important task for overall success. However, in today’s fires we must look at building upon this job and utilizing their ability to become a direct link between the changing dynamics of the interior and the Incident Commander; to provide him/her with accurate data to capture a better view of the situation than one from the exterior of the structure from a block away.
Changes would occur within the duties and responsibilities of the Interior Situational Awareness Officer. First, this individual would be responsible for conducting an exterior scan and size-up of at least two sides of the structure; primarily, the division or side where the primary attack team made access to the interior, and the division of approach.
Second, any identifiable structural collapse considerations, hostile events recognition factors, or roof assembly exposure would be immediately communicated to the I/C and companies operating internally. Additionally, Building Profile identification is key, and would include the age and type of the structure.
NOTE: This will determine fire spread and strengths and weaknesses based upon the building profile, and construction components and features.
Next, the conditions at the point of main egress must be taken into consideration and read, meaning reading the rapid development and increase of pressurization at the access point. All of which should be considered and communicated if recognized as a threat to the safety of personnel inside.
The use of a TIC should also be considered as a tool, to detect fire in the overhead and potential collapse in the area of main egress from the structure. While making that determination, it is important to identify the proper use of PPV. Remember, there are five recognizable elements in determining if PPV is appropriate or not. If any of these five exists, PPV should NOT be considered as the primary source of ventilation.
1. Imminent or confirmed rescue of a civilian or down firefighter
2. Unknown location of fire or inability to locate the fire by interior crews
3. Inability or lack of an adequate sized exhaust portal for PPV usage
4. Working attic fire or fire in an overhead concealed space that would impinge upon roof assembles features while personnel are interior the structure
5. Structure which is over-pressurized for the use of PPV or rapid fire development
All of the above considerations are generally seen by the Inside Man as they are performing their exterior task and job assignments.
The understanding of these elements allows this person to make adjustments to their action plan and provide a higher degree of safety for interior personnel with concise communications to the incident commander.
Once the Inside Man, or Interior Situational Awareness Officer, transitions to the interior of the structure, their job assignment and analysis of situational threats greatly increases. First, the understanding of the roof assembly features and the destructive effects of fire and exposure to fire on these features needs to be a high priority of this person.
In addition to pulling ceilings in the immediate overhead of the main access, point with a scan of the assembly both visually and TIC assisted, it is important for this person to identify the number of hoselines through the access point and the number of personnel assigned to the hoselines.
NIOSH Firefighter Data and Injury Report Data has shown that two or more hoselines through on access portal create a spaghetti like effect that will greatly increase the odds of personnel failing to egress out of a structure in the moment of a hostile event. Corrective action should be taken to minimize this potential.
Keeping hoselines pulled straight and tight, while providing ample egress portals will reduce the risk of injury and entrapment of interior personnel. The Inside Man’s ability to identify rapid fire development within the structure based on changing interior conditions, the reports from roof division as to progress and conditions of ventilation heat holes and firefighter access holes in common corridors or center hallways, along with the exterior size-up communications from the I-RIC companies determine the next course of action.
One simple task is to first determine the location of interior crews, then identify both accountability and air management of those personnel while sizing up the area in which actively involved in firefighting, search procedures or fire extension activities. Along with the normal assigned task, the Inside Man becomes the interior eyes and ears for the incident commander. Historically this has been tasked to a senior Company Officer assigned on a hoseline or an interior position.
However, with split-company operations in limited to zero visibility environments, the Inside Man can double the effective safety envelope by following the actions stated above for the Incident Commander. Also, those assigned to interior crews may be limited in their ability to identify critical safety factors previously discussed due to task overload.
Although, it may seem like a task overload situation for the Inside Man to accomplish all these objectives, bear in mind, it’s a simple algorithm to follow based upon FACTS, PRESENTATIONS, INPUT & INFORMTION, and TASK EXPECTATIONS AND OUTCOMES.
About the Author






Ed Hadfield has more than 26 years of fire service experience after rising through the ranks from firefighter to division chief. He is a frequent speaker on leadership, sharing his experiences within the fire service and also with corporate and civic leaders throughout the United States. For more on Hadfield, please check online at